Sihanoukville – or Snookyville as everyone around me seemed to call it – was easily my least favourite destination in Cambodia.
In terms of anticipation, it was up there with Angkor Wat. I excitedly read Adventurous Kate’s post on Sihanoukville and ran off to buy my bus ticket from Siem Reap.
I hated it.
Now, I don’t like to pick fault with somewhere that I stayed for just a few days, but Sihanoukville is the one place in South East Asia that I couldn’t wait to leave.
It began badly. As soon as I stepped off the bus I was accosted by the tuk tuk mafia and forced to fork out twice as much as it should cost to get into town – a grimy and fairly underwhelming place that seemed to have nothing of interest to see.
I checked into Monkey Republic, a friendly and cheap hostel on the main strip. I stayed in one of its private bungalows which I’d highly recommend to anyone staying in the area. The owners couldn’t have been more helpful, and the portions sizes at its on site restaurant were on the right side of enormous.
My first evening in SIhanoukville brought an uncomfortable realisation – for every backpacker there seemed to be two sex tourists. They skulked around its bars leering at local girls who looked to be barely in their teens. I watched one man shove his hands down a girl’s shorts before moving on to grind his bulging crotch on another. They kept walking away, only for his beer belly to lumber after them.
While I’m not against sex tourism per se, watching Western men repeatedly attempt to grope young girls made me feel very sick indeed.
The situation seemed altogether sleazier than in Thailand. It didn’t seem to be foreigners coming for a quick hook up, or in some cases, love, with a pretty prostitute. It just felt sinister. There were plenty of working girls at the bars, but the men seemed to migrate towards girls who (as far as I could tell) were just ordinary locals.
Cambodia has, rightly or wrong, developed a reputation as a haven for peadophiles and sex tourists. All over the country I noticed billboards asking people to contact them if they came across anything untoward, and offering reassurance that something was being done. But despite the government’s attempts to deal with the issue, it wasn’t topping the local law enforcement’s list of priorities in Sihanoukville.
Oh and It rained. A lot. Seeing as Snookyville’s main attraction is its beaches, I was completely stuck for things to do. I didn’t really ‘do’ drinking after a very bad experience on Koh Tao so the endless Western bar workers forcing free whiskey shots onto everyone who passed by didn’t hold much appeal to me. And trust me, you needed those shots to stand JJs and Dolphin at 2am.
I found the locals in Sihanoukville to be the least friendly people I met in Cambodia, which saddened me, I genuinely believe that Cambodians are some of the most helpful and friendly people in the world. But I just felt like everyone was trying to rip me off here, from the overcharging tuk tuk drivers, to the owner of a book store who insisted I needed to give him 5 books in exchange for one second hand and bootlegged copy.
I also felt uneasy walking around by myself, something that I didn’t experience anywhere else in Cambodia, and found myself clutching my bag and hurrying from the bars back to Monkey Republic as fast as I could.
Throw into the mix a hell of a lot of panic when the crew on the boat to the (absolutely beautiful) island of Koh Rong asked who could swim an hour into the journey before pulling out 4 life jackets – for over forty people. Afterwards I was told it had been the roughest crossing of the year.
Finally, I gave up and booked a bus to Kampot: On it was a man who spent the whole time letting his hand settle on my leg, and who cheerily ignored my embarrassed attempts at shaking it off – and underneath my seat was a box of live chickens.
I’d love to go back to South East Asia, but I’ll be giving Sihanoukville a miss. That’s not to say I’m advocating that anyone travelling in Cambodia skip over Sihanoukville – clearly other bloggers had an amazing experience in the town, just for me, a non-drinking, solo female traveller, it was a bad fit.
Have you been to Sihanoukville? What did you think of it? Let me know!